Objectifying the “dark side”
A 13-year-old boy found my essay Thirteen: Reflections on Character and Values at the Beginning of Adolescence useful in part for its appendix. Entitled “Values Derived from Human Needs,” the appendix gave words to describe both the light and dark sides of values. He thought the description of the dark side was particularly helpful.
The human mind’s fascination with the “dark side” can have unfortunate consequences. Here is an observation about “evil” in Understanding, the second of my two Christmas letters:
Evil isn’t what “others” do to us. It’s what we do to ourselves. Imagining that our flip side – our reflection, a shadow – is an “other” that has a life, a voice of its own with something to offer. When all it has to “give” is a reverse image, what we aren’t. It’s nothing more than an implication of Logic that all things have opposites. That if two realities can’t be real then our reflections can’t be real. They’re the Joker whose joke is “I’m you.” Whatever its offense making it real by engaging with it is what causes it.
Two mistakes in our thinking put the dark side into our thoughts, make it real, empower it, and bring it to life. The first is objectification. We objectify something that’s a part of ourselves when we mistake it for something that’s not a part of ourselves. When we imagine that it’s a separate object, like a stick or a ball, or a pet or another person that we can relate to. When it’s just the reverse side of ourselves – subject, not object, a shadow or reflection – and has no separate existence of its own.
Bringing the dark side to life with projection
Once we’ve imagined that our shadow-reflection is a separate object we can relate to, we commit a second mistake: projection. We project attributes of ourselves onto this object that give it the “existence” it had heretofore lacked. We project our self, that is, our identity, our sovereignty, and our free will that enable the objectified shadow-reflection to act with authority and autonomy as though it were real.
The thoughts and feelings we project onto the object are those that we are uncomfortable with, that we don’t want. It is these that give our dark side its menace, the aspect of danger, of the appearance of purpose and meaning – something happening -- that fascinates and misleads human awareness into wrongdoing and harm.
These uncomfortable thoughts and feelings were precipitated by an event that preceded our engagement with our shadow-reflection. The event was loss of consciousness, and it set in motion a succession of misperceptions and misjudgments beginning with the misperception that our shadow-reflection is a separate self – an object – and the misjudgment that we can safely entrust our wellbeing to its guidance.
The wrong guide is our own creation
For that is what has come of our mistakes. Objectifying our shadow-reflection and giving it autonomy and authority over us by projecting our selves onto it has turned it into a guide. A very serious misjudgment, because once it’s activated its genetic code has no interest in guidance. Its only interest is captivity: controlling its host so that it can replicate itself like a virus and remain in “existence.” All because we have given it the ability and power to do so that come from ourselves. This is what it means that “Evil isn’t what ‘others’ do to us. It’s what we do to ourselves.”
These reflections are part of the core of Christianity that teaches mindfulness, love, and free will – attributes that belong firmly on the light side of values and not on the dark side. To practice Christianity is to recognize, disable, and disempower the dark side in everything we do. And this means understanding that our shadow-reflection is nothing:
- Nothing that can be objectified – made into a separate object.
- Nothing that can be brought to life by projecting ourselves onto it.
- Nothing that can entertain us with the appearance of danger, of “action,” conflict, violence, hurt, anger, and all the other manifestations of values turned against themselves. Of purpose and meaning taken out of context by minds that misperceive and misjudge.
The most important use of our mind
The choice presented by the light and dark side of our values is whether to lead with gifts given to us – our own ability and authority – for our own purposes or with something that’s been given away and “given” back to us for the wrong guide’s purposes. Whether to lead with our own power given to his Child by God or with derived power that isn’t ours and can’t be used for our own benefit.
The right guide is Jesus or the Holy Spirit, a gift to us from God to his Child, who wishes us well and wants us to succeed, to be free, and to be happy. The wrong guide is the Joker, our mistake, a nothing that can’t wish anything and if it could, would only wish us to be its mindless captive and be unhappy. The choice between these two guides is a function of mind possessed of free will. It is the most important choice we will ever make and the most important use of our mind.
Will that is truly free is an informed will. Will guided by mind that understands. That’s no longer under the spell of our shadow-reflection: nothingness – the “power” of the “dark side.”